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Mental health at university

Information and support for mental health and wellbeing at university.

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CONTENTS

  1. Where to find support
  2. Why are students particularly vulnerable?
  3. What are the facts on student mental health?
  4. What are universities doing?
  5. How to look after mental health at uni

Going to university can be a huge leap into the unknown. It’s an exciting step, but you might also find yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed. It could be your first taste of living away from home, cooking for yourself and living with new people away from your support networks, which can be a difficult transition. Stress can also come from other sources, like financial or academic pressure. Taking care of your mental health is therefore extremely important – at university, and beyond.

Where to find support

If you’re feeling under pressure, the main thing to remember is you’re not alone. Many students experience similar things, and there’s support in place to help you.

Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, has lots of information on navigating what help is out there – whether you’re looking for support for your own mental health or for a friend or loved one.

Within your university

There are a number of people you can speak to about mental health at university, as well as dedicated support services.

Check your university’s website to see what support is available. It might include counselling, student advice service, support networks as well as other resources. 

Who you speak to may depend on the nature of your issue – if, for example, you're stressed about money, you could seek guidance from a dedicated financial support service. University staff, campus receptions, students’ unions and university websites should be able to help you find these services.

Your personal tutor or a relevant member of staff will also be able to help with any academic issues, and may help make arrangements such as extensions for deadlines.

If you’re studying in England or Wales, Student Space – run by Student Minds – has a university search directory to help you find out what support is available on your campus. If you’re accessing support for the first time, see Student Minds’ tips on registering for a university GP and attending university counselling.

Outside of university

NHS

If you're struggling with anxiety and depression, NHS talking therapies can help. A free, effective and confidential way to treat common mental health issues,  talking therapies can help you by working through feelings of anxiety or depression with a trained therapist. They're conducted in confidence and help is available face to face, by phone or online. For those whose first language isn’t English, talking therapies can be delivered through multilingual therapists or through confidential translators.

Ask your GP for a referral to NHS talking therapies, or you can self-refer via the NHS website. NHS Scotland has a separate service called NHS inform.

There’s also Every Minds Matters, an NHS initiative that gives you simple and practical advice to manage and maintain your mental health.

Other support

A growing number of charities and organisations provide free and confidential advice, including Student Minds, Mind, SANE and the Mental Health Foundation.

For 24-hour support, you can contact:

  • Student Space – start a conversation by texting ‘STUDENT’ to 85358, or call 0808 189 526 to speak to a trained volunteer between 3pm–midnight every day
  • Samaritans – free, over-the-phone emotional support to anyone in distress in the UK, on 116 123
  • Rehab 4 Addiction – free hotline dedicated to helping people suffering from drug, alcohol and mental health issues, on 0800 140 4690

For urgent medical attention, contact NHS 111 or NHS Direct in Wales first and they'll help you right away. If you need urgent care, the NHS can book you in to be seen quickly and safely.

For life threatening illness and injury, you can call 999 or can go to Accident & Emergency (A&E) at your nearest hospital, or make emergency GP appointments.

For urgent medical advice, call NHS England on 111 or NHS Direct in Wales on 0845 46 47.

Support through the pandemic

Student Space is offering support and guidance during the coronavirus pandemic, including:

Support for friends and loved ones

If you’re worried about a friend or loved one’s mental health, Student Minds can point you in the right direction. Read how you can:

Why are students particularly vulnerable?

Common problems university students face include:

Financial strain

Tuition fees aren’t cheap, and despite support such as student loans, living as a student can be costly, especially when you consider accommodation and other necessary outgoings. It’s no surprise that financial strain is one of the major stressors for students, even more so for internationals and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

If you’re concerned about your finances during the coronavirus pandemic, read Student Space’s advice and practical tips to help with your money worries.

Academic pressure

The stress of exams, coursework and expectation is nothing new to students, but the intensity and nature of it at university can come as something of a shock. In higher education, you’re asked to learn independently, manage your own time, and think critically and originally. For many, this sudden responsibility can be overwhelming and serve as a significant source of stress.

Adapting to online learning and changes to studying your course can also be challenging. Student Space’s tips and tools can help you manage throughout the academic year.

Feeling like you should be enjoying yourself

Before you start, and throughout your time as a student, people tell you that university is the best time of your life. For many, it will be. But not everyone enjoys it, and the added pressure of feeling as though you should can add to the problem. You’re potentially expected to quickly settle into a new home and make a whole new group of friends, so it can be a very overwhelming experience.

Bullying, harassment and assault

Unfortunately bullying – from deliberate exclusion and name-calling to harassment and physical assault – is something that still sometimes happens to students. If this happens to you, there are people at your university who you can talk to, such as your student union's welfare officer, or others who've experienced it themselves. There are also charities with helplines, including Bullying UK and the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation.

If you feel you've been the victim of sexism at university, there are a number of other dedicated support services.

What are the facts on student mental health?

In the academic year 2014-15, over 43,000 students at Russell Group institutions alone had counselling. Three years earlier, the figure was 34,000.

In May 2016 a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by NUS Scotland revealed that the number of students in Scotland seeking help with mental health issues has increased by 47% over a four-year period.

Regarding student suicides, the most recent data available from the Office for National Statistics reports on the situation for 12 months ending July 2017. In England and Wales, the figure stood at 95 students, equating to one death every four days.

What are universities doing about it?

Universities have a responsibility to take the mental health of their students seriously, and many do an excellent job in dealing with it. From dedicated advisors for students with diagnosed mental health issues to drop-in counselling and therapy services for all students, each university has its own way of making sure everyone feels valued.

Student Minds has worked with staff and students to create the University Mental Health Charter, which provides a set of principles to support universities across the UK in making mental health a university-wide priority. It forms the basis of the Charter Award Scheme, which recognises and rewards universities that promote good mental health and demonstrate good practice.

Universities UK and the charity for the prevention of young suicide, Papyrus, have published guidance for universities and student mental health. It suggests all student-facing staff undergo training for suicide awareness, so they can help spot issues in students.

How to look after mental health at university

Join a club, society or group that suits your interests and supports you

This could be anything from a niche sports team within the university or a volunteering group in the local community.

Take care of your wellbeing through nurturing activities

If you can, try and exercise, get enough sleep and spend time in nature. These activities can help give the brain a break from fast-paced university and social life.

Find out what support your university offers

Get to know the support services available, so you know where to go and who to trust if you need help.

Look out for others

Let your friends know you’re there for them. Remember that mental health issues such as depression are usually invisible illnesses.

Find more tips on looking after your wellbeing on the Student Minds website.

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